Following Freeware: June 2013 releases
For a taste of the supernatural this month you can party with a ghost or investigate a paranormal crime. Alternatively, you can find yourself continually one step behind or engage in a quest that is not as "shitty" as it first appears. If those aren't enough you can always escape too far into a book, or take a back door route you may struggle to return from. All these await you in this month’s roundup of releases from the freeware scene.
So here you are, a shitty-looking character in a shitty-looking room. With only the most basic of features and minimal animation, you don’t think much of your life. Perhaps if you could just work your way out of this place, you might find something better out there in the world. But there may be more to this world than first meets the eye, and you may have more of a role to play than you expect.
Whilst the basic setup looks less than promising, JimMakesGames has produced something with surprising depth. The initial graphics are deliberately poor, with both characters and backgrounds drawn with intentionally thick lines, many with a wavy hand-drawn look. Animation is basic but effective. There are some later scenes with better graphics and animation, however, and the reason for this is heavily tied into the story. The game is fully voiced to a good standard and also includes some appropriate sound effects.
Clearly this is not a game to play if you are offended by the word “shitty”, which crops up a lot. Other than that, there is no swearing in the game, as the dialogue is usually much more witty and thought-provoking. Your initial task is to escape a two-room area with virtually no detail and only one other character, who is the epitome of laziness. Once past this first location a greater quest starts to open up into a truly tense second half. Dialogue is used to persuade characters to provide assistance, and you will also make use of a small but cleverly conceived inventory.
Shitty Quest can be downloaded from the AGS website.
One Step Behind
The case. That was all you wanted to track down when you set out tonight. But as you travel from place to place across town, it soon becomes clear that you are not alone in your interest. It seems all the players in town are after the case, and they are not above engaging in a little gunplay and violence to reach their goal. Do you really have any chance of success when, wherever you go, it always seems you are one step behind?
Drink Cider. Make Games. have created a low-res mystery thriller of surprising depth. The character graphics are decidedly blocky, with the models completely faceless. Despite this lack of detail, different clothing style and colour are used to make the various people you meet easily distinguishable. The background graphics are a bit more elaborate, with locations ranging from a damp and seedy cellar to a neon-lit club. Slow, ominous thriller music plays throughout, backed up by a variety of sound effects, such as the breaking of glass when effecting an unorthodox entry.
The action is split across four major scenes. These can be played in any order, though it is recommended that they be played in order for the story to make the most sense. Even in the right order, the plot is still somewhat mysterious, with the value of the case everyone's after never fully explained. The tale still manages to be gripping though, as you get the feeling of a much larger story playing out around you, and various references to the different factions in play are reminiscent of such classics as The Maltese Falcon. The puzzles are mostly simple inventory puzzles, though the protagonist’s habit of getting captured often adds the complication of limited movement.
One Step Behind can be played online at Kongregate.
BackDoor: Door 1 – The Call
A dream of falling is nothing to worry about, or at least so a young man thought. But when he wakes, the room he is in is most definitely not his bedroom. Guided by a mysterious voice on a nearby telephone, the young man sets out to escape from this peculiar situation. But his problems are only just beginning, and he is a lot further from his comfortable bedroom than he thinks.
This game from SolarVagrant presents an enticing opening to a proposed series. The graphics are for the most part done in a top-down retro RPG style, with a slightly blocky but recognisable look. There is a limited colour palette, with objects and the main character rendered only in shades of grey and the floor in light blue. There are a handful of animated cutscenes through the game, however, featuring more detailed cartoon graphics and a fully expressive character. Along with some sound effects, the game opens with an unearthly ethereal sci-fi musical track that is replaced by a more active percussion piece while you play.
Using the keyboard to move around and interact, you initially only have the one room to explore. Once you have worked out how to escape this initial location, a larger complex becomes open to you, with detailed exploration and examination vital to success. You’ll use a small inventory and also manoeuvre various larger items around. A peculiar feature of the environment plays a key part in a couple of the puzzles, with repeated use of an important piece of machinery required. The game ends with some closure on current events while opening up the possibilities for a wider and longer story to come.
BackDoor: Door 1 – The Call can be played online at JayIsGames.
Though you cannot leave the manor house you inhabit, your existence as a ghost isn’t a bad one. The house has regular visitors to keep things interesting, and you always have your bat friends to talk to. Tonight’s batch of visitors seems to be a particularly interesting variety, including a witch and a robot inventor. But your calm enjoyment of the evening is disturbed when there is suddenly a new ghost in the house. Someone is bumping off the guests, and as the only one able to converse with the departed, it looks like it’s up to you to solve this mystery.
Tuan and Marshall have created an intriguing mystery story with the jolliest of ghost detectives. The graphics are displayed in a low-res top-down view, reminiscent of early RPGs. Whilst the ghost protagonist is a simple floating shape with rudimentary limbs, the various other guests around the house have their own distinctive look. When one is deceased, this look is carried over to their spirit, making them recognisable in both forms. There is also limited animation, with supporting characters moving around of their own accord. The colour palette is entirely made up of shades of blue, giving the setting a slightly unearthly quality. A simple tune that sounds like it comes from an old music box plays throughout.
Using keyboard controls, you will need to explore the mansion thoroughly and examine everything. Your interaction with the other characters is initially limited to observation, as all but one are unable to see you. Once they are killed off, you are able to converse directly with their ghosts. You are also able to carry a bewildering array of items in your ghostly fanny pack, and can pass these to other ghosts. Towards the end of the game, a number of different routes to completion become available, with three different endings to find.
Ghost Party can be downloaded from RPGMaker.
For a lonely young boy, books represent his only chance to escape from the depressing world he lives in. But one book takes this escapism a bit too far, literally transporting him to a nightmarish mirror of his own world. Now he must travel through strange rooms trying to seek a way home. As more strange parallels with his own world appear, will he ever be able to find a path?
Ivan Zanotti has created a game that is simple in execution but truly unnerving. The graphics are done in a relatively simple 2D side view. You start off in a suburban family home, with good use of colour outlining furniture such as the protagonist’s bed. The leap to the book's world initially results in dark and disturbing versions of the real-world rooms, with even more alien locales still to come. There are also occasional close-ups when examining items, including some decidedly creepy dolls. The music matches the tone, with the simple tune of our world replaced by a more sinister variation on the other side.
Whilst not gross-out horror, this is a disturbing story with more psychological overtones. The protagonist is controlled by the keyboard, with interactive items highlighting when the character is within direct contact. Inventory is not shown separately, as items are simply used automatically when appropriate. Entering the correct number in a combination is not quite as straightforward as it seems, however, and later you will face a riddle door to solve. There are also sections where you will be pursued by an alien being. Being caught simply results in the current scene resetting, and these sequences do not require particularly fast keyboard skills once you are aware of them.
NothingElse can be downloaded from Game Jolt.
Vortex Point 2: Nensha
Two young ladies are just out for an evening of fun together. Having taken a series of wacky pictures in a photo booth, one pops into a nearby restroom while they wait for them to develop. But the town they are in is Vortex Point, magnet for the weird, and the girl who remains is horrified to find a third mysterious figure appearing in their images. When her friend vanishes without a trace, it looks like this is another case for paranormal crime investigators Kevin, Caroline and Craig.
After their first successful case, esthetix offers players a second chance to step into the shoes of Vortex Point’s own Scooby gang. The game features the same bright cartoon style of the previous episode, with the recurring lead characters instantly recognisable. The graphics are also once more smoothly animated, including some nice idle gestures. This time your investigation will take you to the crime scene and the Vortex Point Museum. A creepy musical tune plays in the background and the game is fully voiced to a decent quality.
Starting at the scene of the girl's disappearance, investigation is the name of the game. Whilst there are no dialogue puzzles to navigate, you will need to converse with the various inhabitants to pick up leads. You will also collect a variety of inventory and use it in both relatively normal and inventive ways. The tone is one of light horror, revealing the town's spooky history over the course of your search. The story fills in more detail on Vortex Point's strange background, paving the way for more adventures of this supernatural research team in the future.
Vortex Point 2: Nensha can be played online at MouseCity.
Other new releases
Not all games are created equal, and freeware games especially come in all shapes and sizes. Not to be overlooked, the following list might also be of interest, though these games may be significantly shorter or less polished, more experimental titles than those detailed above, some perhaps only borderline adventures to begin with.
A Dark Room by Candy Box – A dark room in a lonely forest proves the start of a grand quest.
Ticket by A10 – When their lottery numbers come up, a man and his dog have a long, hard journey ahead if they are to collect their winnings.
Daymare Cat by Mateusz Skutnik – Help Cat escape from the terrible Daymare Town in this adventure with platforming elements.
Witchy Woo by Dropped Monocle Games – A young witch denied a familiar decides to try conjuring up one herself.
Very Retrouvaille by Prince – If you are going to search the forest for your missing rabbit, you’ll need to do a few tasks around town first.
That’s it for this month. Think we’ve missed a gem or want to tell us about your own game? Then pop in to our Adventure forum and tell us about it!